Wausau leaders discuss how to combat hate speech during public forum

Panelists agree hate speech is wrong, but it's hard to tell what is legal and what isn't
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 7:03 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - You may have seen or heard offensive language while out and about. Sometimes it falls under the category of hate speech, but when does it go too far?

That’s what a panel of civic leaders talked about at UWSP-Wausau on Monday. Hate speech can be complicated with lots of variables to it. The First Amendment gives a person the ‘Right to Freedom of Speech,’ but when someone’s speech is hateful towards another person or a group of people, it can be difficult to ignore.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul says the first way to combat is to report it.

“What we do is we work to get local information from local law enforcement, so there can be a response that happens. I would also like to see Wisconsin adopt a Hate Crime Hotline, so that anytime that there is a potential hate crime there can be a single point to report that too,” AG Kaul said.

While it can be tough to ignore the hate, it’s the only way to defy the message.

“What we’re really, you know trying to do is just maintain what we do and you know, ignore a lot of the hate speech out there because it really is a lot of recycled stuff, nothing new,” said VP of Mount Sinai Congregation Andrew Lynch.

However, there are people who are angry and want something to happen. Law enforcement says they really are trying their best.

“Some of these conversations have been like, ‘Well, I guess that’s what we’re going to have to go with this time.’ Then after an event, you know, maybe there was something different we could do and we need to explore this and research and talk more about that,” said Patrol Captain of the Wausau Police Department Todd Baeten.

One question asked by an audience member was, “How can we change some of these ordinances?”

“We have a fully staffed attorney’s office now, so I think it’s some of those things that we’ll be able to have upcoming conversations on,” answered Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg.

Moving forward, there are more conversations to be had. It is possible rules could change. AG Josh Kaul says he would also like to see a ‘Civil Rights Enforced Authority’ as part of the Department of Justice.

To watch the full two-hour discussion hosted by the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service, click here.